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A new synthesis of fynbos research


The new book provides an interdisciplinary account of the ecology, evolution and management of biological diversity in fynbos


Editors Tony Verboom, Nicky Allsopp and Jonathan Colville at the launch event


Nicky Allsopp, Manager of SAEON’s Fynbos Node, addresses the audience at the event

By Dr Nicky Allsopp, Manager, SAEON Fynbos Node

A new book, Fynbos Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation of a Megadiverse Region, edited by Nicky Allsopp, Jonathan Colville and Tony Verboom, was published by Oxford University Press in September 2014. In a remarkable display of collaboration and cooperation seventy authors, from twenty one different institutions, contributed to the sixteen chapters making up the book.

This book complements an earlier book, The Ecology of Fynbos: Nutrients, Fire and Diversity, edited by Richard Cowling and published in 1992. The Ecology of Fynbos was, and remains, an authoritative exposition of the state of fynbos ecological knowledge, and Richard provided a firm foundation for the new book in his role as consulting editor.

Who should read this book?

Fynbos Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation of a Megadiverse Region is aimed at the informed, but not necessarily specialist, reader who would like to understand more about the extremely species- and endemic-rich flora making up the ecosystems of the extreme southwestern corner of Africa.

The book provides an interdisciplinary account of the ecology, evolution, and management of biological diversity in fynbos. Its scope covers the physiographic setting and how plants have been moulded by the peculiarities of this environment, the evolutionary history and remarkable speciation of plants and animals, specialist interactions between species and how communities are assembled, the role of fire, the relationships between fynbos and other vegetation types of the Greater Cape Floristic Region, and how this region compares to other Mediterranean systems globally.

Several chapters expand on the role of humans in fynbos. Modern human behaviour evolved along the Cape coast some 160 000 years ago, and people have been responsible for transforming the environment to meet their needs and through the introduction of invasive species especially since colonisation in the seventeenth century. Understanding and tackling the problems facing fynbos associated with human needs, invasive species, and climate change are another focus.

New insights into fynbos

The new book builds on a diversity of developments in the last twenty years which have given us new insights into fynbos.

Over the last two decades advances in genetic analyses have given us DNA sequence data of Cape lineages that has allowed us to unravel the evolutionary relationships of organisms in the Greater Cape Floristic Region. Greater clarity on the interrelatedness of species and the time periods during which species arose have given us a clearer insight into the drivers of speciation which is relevant to understanding future trajectories for the Cape flora and associated animals.

These developments have been facilitated by hugely increased computing power, comprehensive digital datasets of plant and animal distributions and improvements in spatial analyses, which have provided tools for understanding the dynamics of species though time and across space. This information has potential to assist in developing management policies and guidelines for addressing the biodiversity challenges posed by global change.

In addition to technological advances, the first democratic elections brought about changes that affected fynbos. Firstly, there was the stimulus of interactions with a broader group of international scientists interested in studying fynbos. Secondly, some seemingly unrelated consequences had profound influence. The opening of international markets resulted in an increase in demand for local agricultural products, including the fynbos-specific rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis), which resulted in transformation of indigenous ecosystems previously considered secure. On the positive side, democracy brought a commitment to collaborative governance that has had a profound impact on fostering broad-based conservation and environmental management in fynbos.

Toward understanding global change and its impacts

From SAEON’s perspective the compilation of fynbos knowledge from its evolutionary past, its current dynamic state and its future trajectories provides focus for defining the scope of observation and research it undertakes to understand global change and its impacts.

For further information on the book visit:

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